Warning Signs of Thyroid Cancer: Know Your Neck
September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Everyone has a thyroid gland. Because there is no screening test for the disease, it's critical to understand and recognize the signs and symptoms so we can catch it early. Fortunately, thyroid cancers that are detected early are highly curable.
The thyroid gland affects many functions in the body — heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. It is located in the lower, front part of the neck and contains two lobes, the left lobe and the right lobe. Like any other cells in the body, the cells in the thyroid gland have the potential to become cancerous.
Signs of cancer in the thyroid are not always obvious. So it’s important to pay attention to any changes, such as:
- Unusual nodules, or bumps, on your neck
- Persistent hoarseness or other voice changes
- Persistent, unexplained cough
- Pain in the neck or throat
- Sensitivity in the neck
Anyone who has had prior radiation to the neck could be at higher risk for the disease and needs to be particularly aware of such signs.
Thyroid cancer tends to occur more often in women than men, and men tend to get it at an older age. For women, the average age of diagnosis is in the 40s or 50s. For men, it’s 50s or 60s.
I want to emphasize that a nodule in the neck does not necessarily mean cancer. In fact, nodules are common and often benign and harmless. The only way to diagnose the cancer is to take a biopsy and examine the sample under the microscope.
The most important takeaway, as we come to the end of Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, is that knowing your body and paying attention to subtle changes in the neck area could help you catch a serious problem before it’s too late.